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HEALTH

Mask hysteria: Germany denies export ban despite blocking Swiss-bound medical supplies

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday denied putting in place an export ban on medical supplies, despite a Swiss-bound truck being stopped by customs officials. The Swiss government has however said it is prepared and has a large stock of protective equipment.

Mask hysteria: Germany denies export ban despite blocking Swiss-bound medical supplies
Photo: ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP

As reported by The Local Switzerland on Monday, March 9th, a truck containing approximately 240,000 protective masks was stopped by German customs before it could cross the border into Switzerland. 

There have been widespread media reports that Germany, along with other European countries such as France, have put in place restrictions on the export of medical supplies.

READ ALSO: Germany bans exports of gloves and masks over coronavirus

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has however denied this, saying “there is no export ban. We just want to make sure the medical materials are in the right hands”. 

On Wednesday, another shipment – this time of surgical gloves which had been produced in China but were destined for Switzerland – was stopped in Germany. 

As reported in the Tages Anzeiger, the Swiss Economics Department said it was one of many shipments that had been detained in Germany. Another shipment was detained on Wednesday, this time from Italy. 

The situation is particularly severe for Switzerland as the country, unlike neighbours France and Germany, produces very little protective gear. 

Despite the dispute, the Swiss government has indicated that it has a significant stockpile of medical equipment – including more than one mask for every Swiss resident. 

Avoiding 'mask hysteria'

Health officials have frequently told the general public that healthy people should not wear masks and to refrain from purchasing them as they make it more difficult for sick people and medical professionals to access them. 

According to the WHO, around 80 percent of people who contract the new coronavirus recover without needing special treatment.

Around one out of every six people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing.

Some 3.4 percent of cases are fatal, according to the latest WHO figures. Older people and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.

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HEALTH

WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk

Most new cases of monkeypox are currently detected in Western Europe. The World Health Organisation says this is no reason to cancel more than 800 festivals scheduled to take place on the continent this summer.

WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk

The World Health Organization said Friday that European summer festivals should not be cancelled due to the monkeypox outbreak but should instead manage the risk of amplifying the virus.

A surge of monkeypox cases has been detected since May outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic.

Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.

More than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the WHO from 48 countries in total this year.

“We have all the summer festivals, concerts and many other events just starting in the northern hemisphere,” Amaia Artazcoz, the WHO’s mass gatherings technical officer, told a webinar entitled “Monkeypox outbreak and mass gatherings: Protecting yourself at festivals and parties”.

The events “may represent a conducive environment for transmission”, she said.

“These gatherings have really close proximity and usually for a prolonged period of time, and also a lot of frequent interactions among people,” Artazcoz explained.

“Nevertheless… we are not recommending postponing or cancelling any of the events in the areas where monkeypox cases have been identified.”

Sarah Tyler, the senior communications consultant on health emergencies at WHO Europe, said there were going to be more than 800 festivals in the region, bringing together hundreds of thousands of people from different countries.

“Most attendees are highly mobile and sexually active and a number of them will have intimate skin-to-skin contact at or around these events,” she said.

“Some may also have multiple sexual contacts, including new or anonymous partners. Without action, we risk seeing a surge in monkeypox cases in Europe this summer.”

Risk awareness

The UN health agency recommends that countries identify events most likely to be associated with the risk of monkeypox transmission.

The WHO urged festival organisers to raise awareness through effective communication, detect cases early, stop transmission and protect people at risk.

The outbreak in newly-affected countries is primarily among men who have sex with men, and who have reported recent sex with new or multiple partners, according to the WHO.

People with symptoms are advised to avoid attending gatherings, while people in communities among whom monkeypox has been found to occur more frequently than in the general population should exercise particular caution, it says.

The normal initial symptoms of monkeypox include a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a blistery chickenpox-like rash.

Meg Doherty, from the global HIV, hepatitis and sexually-transmitted infection programmes at WHO, said: “We are not calling this a sexually-transmitted infection.

“Stigmatising never helps in a disease outbreak,” she added.

“This is not a gay disease. However, we want people to be aware of what the risks are.”

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